God’s call to Abraham which begins last week’s parashah, “Lekh lekha me’artzekha – Go forth from your land,” comes as a surprise to the reader, from out of the blue. The Torah does not explain why God turns specifically to Abraham, nor why He does not turn to Abraham’s ancestors Arpakhshad, Nachor, or Terach. In contrast, God’s call to Noah, telling him to build an ark in order to save the world, is preceded in the Torah by the reason that Noah specifically is chosen: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
The Maharal (Netzach Yisrael, Chapter 11) discusses the difference between Abraham and Noah. He explains that God’s choice of Abraham is not the choice of the individual, Abraham, but rather of the nation which would descend from him. This choice is absolute and not dependent on any particular actions. If the Torah had first described Abraham’s good deeds, we would likely think that his chosenness, and that of his line, was conditional upon their good deeds. The absence of a reason given for the choice of Abraham teaches us that from this point onward, the chosenness of the Jewish people is irrevocable even if the Jews do not follow the path of their ancestor Abraham.
Though the Maharal explains why the Torah does not record the reason for Abraham’s chosenness, of course this does not mean that Abraham is chosen at random, without any reason. It is incumbent upon us to uncover the secret and clarify why Abraham specifically is chosen for the job of Founding Father of the Chosen People.
It seems that the secret which is kept from us in Lekh Lekha is revealed in Parashat Vayera:
For I know him (i.e., I have chosen him), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep the way of the Lord, to do what is right and just . . . . (Genesis 18:19)
So why is Abraham chosen for this mission? It says about Chanokh: “Chanokh walked with God” (Ibid., 5:24). It says about Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noah walked with God.” But it does not say about Abraham: “For I know him, that he is righteous and perfect.” Rather, it says: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep the way of the Lord.”
Abraham is chosen because he is an educator! It is possible that there were others in Abraham’s generation who were righteous and blameless, upright people who served God. But God does not choose them. God is looking for someone who makes education his guiding light – someone who is not just concerned that he be righteous and serve God, but who would take care to educate his children and household to follow him in keeping God’s ways.
Why is it so important to choose specifically an educator? We have already said that Abraham is chosen not merely as an individual, but as the Founding Father of a nation. It is not Abraham who is chosen, but all his descendants, eternally for all generations. Isn’t God taking a risk in choosing one nation for all generations based on the character of its first progenitor? What if his children do not justify the choice and do not follow in their father’s path?
For this reason, God is in search of an educator. A regular tzaddik can be chosen as an individual, but how can we know that his many positive traits will be passed on to the later generations? When choosing a Founding Father for a nation, we must search for a person who does not only work on himself as an individual, but who makes sure to educate his household to follow in his path. Only in that way can the choice go from risky to realistic, with a reasonable guarantee that most of his future descendants would follow in his footsteps.
However, there is a problem with this. At the beginning of Vayera, when it says that Abraham will command his children and his household after him to keep God’s way, Abraham is still childless! How does God know that Abraham is such an accomplished educator, if he has not yet proved himself through educating his children?
We can solve this problem in light of the words of the wellknown midrash (Bereisheet Rabbah 38:13) which tells the story of Abraham in his father Terach’s home. Abraham is sitting and selling idols in Terach’s store when an elderly man comes in to buy one. Abraham asks him: “Should a fifty- or sixty-year-old man worship a god that is only a day old?” The person is embarrassed and leaves. Afterwards Abraham smashes all the idols in the store. When Terach returns to the store and finds all his idols broken, Abraham argues with him about worshipping them. Afterwards Abraham argues with Nimrod as well, gets thrown into the fiery furnace, and emerges victorious.
When we read this story we find ourselves asking: why is Abraham so fired up to debate everyone with whom he comes into contact? If Abraham has discovered the truth – good for him. Does he really need to endanger himself in order to persuade others of their mistake? Why can’t he let others continue in their meaningless ways, while he enjoys his discovery of the true God by himself?
But Abraham is not willing to make peace with the fact that others surrounding him are living a lie. He is not a postmodernist who believes that everyone has his own truth – my truth is serving God, while my family’s and neighbors’ truth is idolworship. Rather, if Abraham has reached a conclusion about the Truth, he will use all his persuasive abilities to try to bring the whole world to recognize it.
This is Abraham the educator. Even before he has biological children, he has already succeeded in building an educational household where various people from the idol-worshipping society are educated in the Truth. God knows this, and stands witness that such a person will certainly invest in his children at least as much as he invests in outsiders. Accordingly, he is fit to be the Founding Father of the Chosen People, whose eternal mission will be to serve as a light to the nations and to bring belief in God to all of humanity.
We, the children of Abraham, learn from him the critical importance of education. We are insufficient by ourselves, and it is crucial for us to look at how we pass on these things to future generations. We learn how important it is for us to invest in our children, in our youth, in the next generation. Abraham is an exemplar, teaching us that we must try to influence everyone whose path we cross, and view our entire lives as a shlichut, a mission.